Thursday, October 29, 2009

Diagnosis: or Give Me A Freaking Break

Here is the diagnosis of mon doux pied:


Would you like to know what metatarsalgia translates to from the Latin?
Jesus.  No shit, Sherlock.

Basically Lucho got it. Thanks, Lucho! You win the House prize... I should have just listened to you instead of going to el doctor, since el doctor told me verbatim what you did. sigh.

So the deal is that my feet are anatomically challenged. I knew they were brutal hasslich, but apparently they are also just totally fucked up. I have bunions (inherited and then made worse by years of dance en pointe as a young lassie) that are now pretty much at a 90 degree angle. Add to this that I have a Morton's toe, (second toe is longer than my big toe), and an extra bone in my second metatarsal region.  (I also have a Plantar Wart on my heel that has been with me since sixth grade, incurable athlete's foot and mangled, yellow toenails that often fall off, but apparently those features of my delicate tootsies have nothing to do with my metatarsalgia, they merely add to the glamor of my lovely feet.)

Don't you just want to suck on my toes? I thought so. Get in line.

Apparently there is no real cure for this ailment. I need to, as Lucho suggested, wear shoes with a wide toe box, I need arch supports, and I need metatarsal pads for the balls of my feet. The problem was exacerbated by my running, but not the cause of it, so that's nice to know. Even if I sat on my ass all day I would likely have the old ball of the foot pain, just because of the nature of my feet. 

Well, all's well that ends well. I need to get me some little Arthrex inserts and I'm good to go. If the pain persists, the cure is to suck it up and deal.

Onto other riveting items:

I loved the responses to my Weight post. It made me all warm and fuzzy inside to know that most of you liked my list. I did get a few responses, though, that are worth mentioning, and that weren't so warm and fuzzy.

The most important was from my big sis, Laura. She emailed me privately to make a super good point, but a point she thought too personal to share. I disagree with her on that. The point is wicked important, and so I NEED to share it.
It's this:
I hated my body when I was a teenager. I hated my body and I hate who I was. She (my teenaged self) doesn't derseve my hate, though. In fact, she deserves my love and respect. I had a gorgeous body, beautiful breasts, and I was sought after by many a boob-loving boy. I was ashamed of my chest, and ashamed of my weight--but in retrospect I see that I was quite babe-a-licous when I wasn't covering myself up in gigantic white t-shirts and apologizing for my curves.

Here's the thing. Whether I was fat or not, hot or not, I need to not say repeatedly that I was a porkster as a kid. This is less for my benefit, or yours, and more for that of my daughters. Laura's words:

"You were not porky at all. You had a good sized chest,  but you were not fat, porky, or anything like that. I bring this up because I am a little worried that those kinds of comments (which you have made about yourself for many years) might make it hard for Jordan and Lara as they get older. As they grow up, they will be aware that they have two incredibly athletic parents, and a mother who has not an ounce of fat on her body. This body type and shape may not be something they end up with naturally, and they may begin to feel that they are not what they should be- and that they are a disappointment to you. They will not only have the media images bombarding them, but also the images of a very competitive triathlete world. What if they are shorter of stature and have big breasts? What if they look a lot like you did at 18?"

Yep. I fucking cried. It's one thing to hate a past self. It's another to foist that hate on your innocent daughters, who have done nothing but inherit your genes and your home.

So I thought I should share that.

Thanks,Laura.  xo

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


It's a tough topic and it's been on my mind.
Perhaps I'm sensitive to the whole thing because, alas, I was a porkster as a teenager. I was still cute, don't get me wrong, but I was a porkster. I had a body that was soft and fleshy. I only dared to wear a one piece. I had big boobs.
Don't believe me?  Photographic evidence. Spring of 1989. 18 years old.
I'm the one on the end with the white t-shirt.
And you thought I was exaggerating... tsk tsk.

This picture was taken at Range Pond in Maine with a few of my freshman year college buddies.

Nineteen years and three kids later I returned to Range Pond for the Wild Bear Triathlon. I probably would've shit myself if you had told me then that I would end up returning to Range Pond at age 37 to do a triathlon--and that I would go on to complete an Ironman two years later. Actually, I'm quite sure I didn't even know what an Ironman was at that point.

Around the time that picture was taken I had just taken up running for the first time. Courtney (Smith North shirt, above) and I would leave our dorm at midnight so we would not be seen, and run on the track. I could only run one lap when we began. By the end of the semester I could run a mile.

Some people describe their first running experience as cathartic. They loved it. They knew they would always run.
I hated it. I only ran at night so people would not see how pathetic and slow I was, and how often I needed to stop to catch my breath.  But I despised myself and my body even more, and I really didn't want to give up beer and pizza. I had no choice but to run.
Here I am finishing at Range Pond in 2007.

After many, many years I began to run because I loved to run.   However, worrying about my weight never left me. Honestly, what women isn't haunted by weight worry?  For example, I just stole a piece of my son's 6th birthday cake, made with, according to my mother-in-law, six sticks of real butter. I had a piece last night too. With chocolate ice cream. And that's not the only indulgence I've partaken of this week, trust me. To boot, I'm on forced rest until November.  By November I fear I will be an elephant.

 (above: Mary at IM CDA 2010.)

Telling myself to let it go--that soon I will be training again and watching what I put in my mouth-- doesn't seem to help. I call it Fear of  Elephant-Ness Syndrome or F.O.E.S.

F.O.E.S. is a big deal to nearly all women, and in our sport, weight takes on even more weight. It's not only tied to beauty standards forced on us by culture, it's tied to performance. Men suffer the same weight preoccupation as women when they involve themselves in multisport because weight is so tied to performance. So I feel for you dudes, too.

This isn't a post on how to deal with F.O.E.S., though. We all have our methods, and I'm not here to lecture on which methods are healthy.  My real reason for writing on weight is this: It's hard to determine what one's weight should ideally be.

Losing weight is hard to do, but it's so attractive to we running/tri obsessed people. I've read that for every pound you shed you take 2 seconds per mile off your running pace. That means that for a marathon you'd run five minutes faster if you did nothing other than to shed just five little pounds. How awesome is that? Just lose the weight and the P.R. is in the bag!  EXCEPT it isn't in the bag because there is, of course, a point of diminishing returns. You risk losing muscle tissue if  you lose weight when already slim which will make you slower, not faster. Further down the road from diminishing returns is the development of anorexia--or more likely for we athletes--anorexia athletica.... (It sounds so pretty, doesn't it? --like a smiling skeleton with a poppy in her hair.) I know anorexia is most closely associated with teenage girls, but we adult athletes are also at risk because there is so much emphasis on body composition in our sport.

Some would argue it's a simple formula to know how much one should weigh. I don't know the formula, but I'm quite sure there is one. The formula used when I was growing up in the 80's was this (for women): For every inch above 5 ft., add 5 lbs onto 100.  I am 5'2.5", so I should weigh, optimally, 112.5 lbs. That's not the formula anymore, though. The problem was, among other things, that assigning a number didn't account for how much fat or muscle a person carried. A person can have a ton of body fat but only weight 112.5 pounds at 5'2.5", but that person is not healthier than someone who weighs more but has less body fat. Now we determine appropriate weight using the BMI scale, but that thing is way too general to be helpful, and also doesn't account for % of body fat.  Honestly, I don't know how one determines what is right. Also, it seems that "right" in the real world and "right" for an endurance athlete are quite different things.

Who the hell knows.

In the face of having no good way to determine what my "right" weight is on paper, I have been forced to experiment in real life. What follows is my extremely scientific (haha) way to determine whether I'm track with my weight. Maybe it will help you do the same. You never know.

Here it is:

Mary's Top Six Ways of Achieving and Maintaining Optimal Weight:

  1. Am I hungry?  Okay. That sounds stupid, but it is my number one way of determining whether I'm on track or not.  I believe I should not be hungry. Ever. This is the benefit of not living in a third-world country. There is a difference between craving and hunger. I crave Devil Dogs, but I don't always eat them. Hunger is different than craving. It is signified by a rumbling tummy, by an irritable mood, and by light-headedness. If I am hungry, I am not on track.
  2. Am I craving? I'm also not on track if I'm craving. If I'm craving, I'm denying.  If I'm denying myself, I'm not on track. If I want a nice dark beer, I drink it. If my mother-in-law makes a six-stick butter chocolate cake, I have a slice. If I am craving an ice cream sundae, I have a sundae making party with my kids. What I've found is that by not limiting myself, I don't crave. I also don't experience guilt. I also don't feel the need to binge during the "off" season. I also can say no to a sweet or juicy burger or a drink, because I know if I really want it, I can always have it tomorrow.
  3. Do people tell me I look thin?  Here is a clue: If people notice you are skinny, and they say, often in alarm, Wow! You look really thin! That's a very, very bad sign. When you are the right weight you look healthy. People see you and say, Wow! You look so fit! You look really strong. God, I wish I had those arms... You are seriously buff. If you are unsure, you can always ask a member of the opposite sex that you trust and who you are not sleeping with. Yes, you look good. Not too thin--just strong. or Actually, you are looking kind of skeletal. Your face is a little gaunt. and so on.
  4. How am I training and racing? This is a neat experiment. Record your weight prior to each workout and race. At the end of the season, figure out at what weight you seemed to have the most success. This is totally unscientific, b/c there are like a billion factors that determine how well you do in a workout or race. Still, it's an interesting little tidbit of data. Usually you will find there is a sweet spot--a range of two-four pounds at which you train and race best.
  5. Am I menstruating? Okay. It doesn't help to ask yourself that if you're a guy. But if you're a chick, and you're under 48, and you're not getting your period regularly (especially if you have gotten in regularly in the past) that's a wicked bad sign.
  6. Always add to your diet, never subtract:  This goes right along with the no restricting/craving rule. I never take something away. I just add. For example, when I feel like I'm not eating well, I make sure I am eating five fruits and seven servings of veggies a day. That's wicked hard. Have you ever genuinely tried to do that? When you do, you find that the fruit and veggies suck up a lot of your hunger. You are absolutely allowed to have a burger and fries if you want it, but usually you feel too gassy and full from the green stuff and you don't want to bother.
And now, I'm off to making ghost cookies with Lara.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

All about mememememe me! and my foot.

First, a big thank you to all who offered me information and advice on my injured foot.

This is what you did for me, though I know it wasn't your intention....
I think I AM going to get an x-ray after all.

I am not sure it's a problem with the fascia. That said, my calves are a mess, and I have had trouble with both my Achilles and plantar fasciitis in the past, so clearly I need to take all advice there, staring with getting myself a foam roller and a massage tool (other than my husband) for my calves.

However, I think this may be something else (though naturally it's all connected, I know.) It's not neuroma, I'm also pretty sure of that, because it's not high up enough and there is no ball there. It's really right below my second toe (index toe?) in the exact center of the ball of my foot. The pain radiates from that spot into my index toe. My index toe is tingly and feels a little broken. I know that sounds like a stress fracture, but I just don't see how I could have run on it all these months if it was one. Still, I think I should check it out. The advice that made me think this was from Go Big Green. You're right. Now is the time to heal. I should at least know what I'm dealing with, even if I do believe they will probably just send me home equipped only with the advice that I should rest, stretch, strengthen, ice and take Aleve.

This feels a little like the TV show, House. And I get to be the star! (I love it when it's about me...)Now that you have more detail, are you all willing to make another stab at what it might be?
(I love this shit.)  Oops--I just went into cardiac arrest!  Someone give me a tracheotomy!

In other news:
I am happy to say that I was just hired at the pool. I am their new Masters swim coordinator! (Oh boy. Now I have to figure out how to do this!!) Also I will be doing some coaching of the little squirts (I hope) and teaching some adult lessons. In the spring I plan to offer a course "on completing your first triathlon." If you're local, and you think you might want to be a part of that, let me know.

To KennyO--I definitely have my opinion on what to look for in a coach, but before I get to writing that post I think you should check out this post by Coach Elizabeth Fedofsky Waterstrat.She's a fantastic coach herself, and also a great writer.

Finally I leave you with some oh so beautiful fashion shots from my last race. I personally imagined looking more glam and marathon chic than that--but hey. I was wet and cold and busy getting a P.R. :)

No idea at what point this was taken, but it couldn't be that far in, b/c my left pocket is still bulging with gel.

Wet and cold, but at least I'm passing the dude next to me. This was taken at the end.
This is a good pic of me landing on my injured foot. No wonder I'm injured; it looks like I'm landing on the side of it. The way the treads on my shoes look, this appears to be the case.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Let's Go Crazy!

It's the off season.
So I'm off.

The only part of my body that is happy about this is my feet. The rest of me already wants to start training. I'm all fidgety.
My feet need to heal, though. As in heel and starting healing, heels!

I digress. My feet have been a  little funky for the last several months. The ball of my right foot hurt very, very much during the run at LP, and then continued to hurt for several weeks after that. Luckily that little problem disappeared because of the forced rest after LP. Then, maybe a month ago, I started getting the same pain in my left foot. The pain is like a bruise. It hurts to the touch and it hurts to run/walk on it. However, I found a way to wrap it up, putting layers of gauze under my forefoot and taping, that made the pain bearable. It is also one of those injuries where when you begin running it kills, but five miles in it hurts less, and by 10 miles you can't feel it at all.  For that reason I ruled out stress fracture.  Stress fractures don not feel better 10 miles into the run. I think it might be a fascia problem?

I'm interested in your feedback as to what it might be. I COULD go to see a doc, I know. But do you know what a doc will tell me?

Rest it.
Ice it.
Get Orthotics.
Get surgery done on your out-of-control bunions.
Stop running so much after you heal.

In my experience, REST IT is the number one cure. I will also ice, but I won't do the rest of the list. I  have my reasons, but I won't bore you with them.

Because I am resting I have an abundance of energy that seems to be firing everywhere willy nilly. I need to lasso it, channel it, and put it to use. That's hard. I made a list of about 50 things I'd like to do in the next month. I don't even know where to begin when I look at said list, and so I end up writing a blog post or surfing FB. It's not good.

Here are a few things I am supposedly working on:
  • My writing. (Thanks, Liz. :) This is going very slowly, though. It doesn't help that I am pretty ADD right now.
  • Organizing the house. This is painful and overwhelming. I should take pictures of our "office" (read repository for all the shit we don't know what to do with) and our basement (unbelievably scary--and not b/c of spiders and mice) to give you an idea of what I'm facing.
  • Forming a Masters swim team at the pool and beginning to teach adult swimming lessons there. This has me taking 8 intensive days of Lifeguarding/WSI (water safety instructor) to get re-certified. ek!
  • Coaching. I'm coaching three awesome women: two in running and one in triathlon. I'm glad they trust me. I'm not sure I trust me, of course.
  • Reading as a writer. I read a lot, but not as a writer. I've realized that this is hard to do. 
  • Cooking. Okay, I'm not really working on that. But I should. I like the idea of cooking.... I just don't actually like doing it.
  • Gardening. I need to clean up the brush and get in some bulbs. 
Honestly I haven't done any of these things in earnest. I've been spending time emailing, walking my old pooch ten times a day, reading blogs, watching episodes of Scooby Do with my kids, testing Jordan on her math facts and spelling words and doing laundry.

Which, just maybe, is what I should be doing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bay State Marathon Race Report or Being Cold Part Trois

The weekend began auspiciously. Rain was forecast, but the day was only slightly overcast and beautifully balmy. Today it's even more beautiful: in the 50s, sunny with just a light breeze.  Ahhh.

But marathon day. Well, the weather fucking sucked. 

I knew it would suck, because the forecast said it would suck. But I still held out hope. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. In the 40s wasn't too cold and a little rain never hurt anyone, right?
Wrong.  Bring on the hypothermia! January decided to show up and give us a little preview, and her little display did not disappoint.

I got up at 5 a.m. to eat and chill, and then went to meet my GNRC friends so we could carpool to the race. Somehow twelve of us fit into two cars, and we started the hour long trip to Lowell. I'm always a chatterbox (big shocker) before races, and my peeps in David's car put up with that very nicely. Thank you!

The Bay State Marathon is known throughout New England as a fast and flat course, perfect to use as a Boston Qualifier. Fast and flat is relative, of course. In New England a purely flat course does not exist. We have plenty of great hilly marathons--Mt Desert Island Marathon in Maine, Clarence de Mar Marathon in New Hampshire, and of course, The Boston Marathon (one of our easier marathons, actually) known for its stretch of hills that culminate with the well-known Heartbreak Hill. Flat marathons, however, we lack.  The Bay State course circumnavigates the Merrimack River (known in its day for the Lowell Mills it housed), so it's as flat as they come. There are a few rollers, and some modest climbs when going over bridges, but really its elevation profile is pretty ideal for New England.

I have not run a fast, flat course of any kind in a long, long time, so I was PSYCHED to see what I could do on this course. I had a big goal, I  had trained well, and I was ready to run hard. When we arrived in Lowell the weather was not bad. It was moist, but not raining; cool but not cold. Most people were dressed in shorts, long-sleeved wicking Ts and jackets.  I felt confident that my apparel choice was both wise and, importantly, marathon chic: I had on shorts and a fitting Craft shirt with a fitting Terry tank top over it, arm warmers and gloves-- all black.  I even had black socks with skulls and hearts on them. I was nothing if not dressed for some bad ass running.

We packed in like sardines at the start. The marathon was1600 strong, and there were no real definitive pace zones. The human pacers were late to arrive, and so people just lined up where they felt made most sense--e.g. the FRONT. I was toasty warm at this point, and also a little claustrophobic. I was surrounded by about 10 men, all towering over me and smashed up next to me like we had known each other intimately for years. Everyone was chipper and friendly, though, and to be honest, I appreciated the warmth of all the bodies around me.

(This pic. was taken at just about the 1/2 mile mark. Obviously it was taken last year, though, when it was SUNNY.)

The race began unceremoniously with a GO! I couldn't see or feel any movement given my location in the armpits of men, but soon enough the crowd inched forward, and within 15 seconds I was at the starting line. It was crowded for awhile, but people were fantastic about moving around to accommodate various paces. For a large marathon start it was extremely civil. It occurred to me that perhaps others didn't experience it this way. Triathlon and its let's pummel each other in the water beginnings have inoculated me against mass running starts, I think.

In no time my Garmin let me know we had hit goal pace. Time to hold steady, and oh, was that hard. I felt like a million bucks. The last few days I had been bouncing off the walls, aching to run and just get it OUT. And now, I could go!! But I couldn't go. Running 7:30s felt like 9:30 pace. I actually wondered whether my Garmin was just not reading the satellites correctly and I was actually just inching along. But I stayed centered. I stayed calm. I was cool as a cucumber. (Someday I am going to write a post on cliches and their origins. Where the fuck did cool as cucumber come from? )

First mile 7:29. Second mile 7:31, Third mile, 7:30. Fourth mile 7:29.

All was well with the world.

At five miles (7:31) I took my first gel. I well add here that no one appeared to be fueling--not just at this early point in the race--but in general, throughout the whole race. Again I wondered if my triathlon racing the last few years has altered my perception of things. In the running world people just don't fuel like they do in triathlon world. When I ask my running friends if they fuel for the marathon they say things like, "Oh yeah! Of course! I take water ever four miles and at least two gels during the race."

That's not fueling, at least not in my book.  I took five gels during the marathon, and I alternated water and Gatorade throughout the whole damn thing, too. Perhaps I over-fuel. I don't know. I love the hit of power that comes five minutes after a caffeinated gel.

Anyway. I digress. I took my first gel. BING! Carb and caffeine hit.
Had to reign myself in again. Within five minutes I had the urge to hammer. But I did not.

7:32, 7:29, 7:30, 7:28.

The funny thing about doing an open marathon after doing a bunch of 1/2 Ironman and a full, is that 3 hours and 20 minutes just does not seem that long--at all. I thought about the race like this:
First 10k. the swim
middle 14 miles-the bike
final 10K. the run

By mile 8 I was (figuratively) on the bike and I felt like no time had passed. At this point we had to cross a bridge, which was a nice diversion.
(This is the bridge.)

The problem was, this was one weird bridge. We ran on the foot bridge part, which was separate from the car portion of the bridge, and this footbridge moved, almost imperceptibly, but VERY disconcertingly, with our footfalls. I was in a pack when we crossed, and the many footfalls created a chaos of subtle movement that made you feel like the earth was moving beneath your feet. My pack had been moving right along at a 7:30 clip, but we slowed down to 8:30 pace for the whole, long bridge. Grrr. Messed up my perfect pace. I was irritated--and when we got off the bridge I couldn't help it. I let it blast to make up time and finished the next mile on ...
7:31. Ahhhh. Back to the plan.

At mile 10 I was approached. His name was Rob. He wanted a friend. I wanted him to get the fuck away from me.

I have a nice problem, however. I couldn't tell him to get away because I felt guilty. He was clearly a friendly, harmless guy.  I decided to take the terse answer approach to get him to leave me alone.

"So, what pace are we running?"
"So, what are you gunning for?"
"Bummer about the run, huh? It's getting colder."
"You know, you're the first girl I've really seen out here. I think you'll place pretty well today if you can hold this pace."
Was this a pick-up line?
"There's a girl just ahead," I pointed.

When I slowed at water stops, he'd slow too. When I picked up the pace, he would too. When I moved to the right, he would too.
At mile 13 I saw Brian, Kristina's husband, and he shouted to me. I slowed, hoping Rob would just go ahead. No luck. Thanks anyway, Brian.

I needed another approach to get rid of him.
I took in another gel.
Gel makes me fart.
Usually I try to be quiet when releasing a little noxious air. I wait for a car to pass and when the noise is just enough, I release.  If no cars make an appearance, I opt to let out little squeaks ever so queitly, but repeatedly, until relief sets in.
Not today.

I just let it rip.
Several times in a row.
The smell was just right; a perfect blend of methane and sulfur that would surely slow him down or knock him out. It was truly vomit-licious--worse than a race-day porta potty filled to the brim.

It did not work. He ignored it. He was going to hang tough because, I now realized,  I was his pacer.  I knew what this was, and I knew his presence was making me itch. I wanted to be alone with my pace and my thoughts and my breathing. I did not want ideal chat, and I did not want to be anyone's rabbit.

It was mile 17, and our relationship, though so new and fresh, needed to end. NOW. I  had but one option left.
Smoke him.
I picked up the pace to 7:00s. He held on. I held 7:00 pace for several minutes, and he fell slightly behind. I let him lag for a bit, and then I took a deep breath and turned on the jets. I picked it up to 6:45 pace, then 6:30, then 6:15 and I blitzed out of there. Within a minute he was dust.

Finally. Relief.

I was concerned he'd try to catch me, so I held 7:20 pace for a bit just to make sure I was in the clear. Of course, if jetting ahead of him like that didn't give him the signal that I wanted him to get the fuck away from me, I didn't know what would.
I repeat, though. The guy was nice. He meant no harm. I simply did not want him near me; it was as simple as that.

Onward! I had to go over that crazy ass bridge again, because this was a two loop course. Luckily I wasn't in a pack this time and the experience wasn't so traumatic. After the bridge I began to notice the weather. My previous obsession with getting rid of the stalker nice man who just wanted a friend to pace him, had blinded me to the increasing cold. The temperature was not in the 40s--this was the mid 30's for sure. Additionally, the rain had picked up and was a steady, relentless, driving P.I.T.A.  My gloves were soaked, my arm warmers needed to be wrung out, and rain was pelting my face and making my eyes sting. Still, I was the QUEEN of pacing.

7:31, 7:32, 7:34, 7:29.

And then I hit mile 20. I was on the run (figuratively) and I felt  great! (if very cold and like a wet dog.)  I was passing people left and right--people, I noted, who had passed me earlier in the race.
There was only one problem. My Garmin said I was at 20.25 miles. The race had me at 20 miles.

I'm sure you've all experienced this annoying dilemma. Your Garmin is GREAT. It helps you keep pace, it lets you know when you heart-rate has sky-rocketed, it tells you exactly where you are and gives you your mile split automatically. The problem is that it tells you not where the race says you are, but where you actually are.
In a race, you weave. In a marathon, that weaving adds up. It's not that the race is measured incorrectly (usually). It's that you add 3-4 tenths (at least) onto your marathon just by moving around on the course. Everyone does it. Everyone actually runs 26.5 or more instead of 26.2. Why is this important? Well, if you use a Garmin then you may very well believe you are running 7:30 pace--and you ARE. But you still won't get the time you're going for unless you make sure the pace you're running will get you to the end of 26.5 miles, not 26.2 miles. At 7:30 pace, I was headed for a high 3:17 IF I was to run 26.2. But when I hit 26.2 miles, I would still have three tenths of a mile to go.
I knew this, and I know it's the same for everyone. But it still pissed me off. I was clipping off those 7:30s, but it didn't matter. I need to hurry up, or I still would not make my 3:20 time goal.

At mile 23, I finally started to feel like crap. I attribute my late arrival at the shit point to Jen's outstanding coaching. Anyway, the rain was vicious, I was chattering, and the course was going ever so slightly uphill. To say I was grumpy is an understatement.
And then my quad seized. This has never happened to me, and at first I had no idea what was happening. I looked down andI could see it pulsing! It was alive! (Of course it was, but you know what I mean.)  It didn't hurt that much though, so maybe it wasn't a cramp. Maybe it was just having a little quad seizure? It did slow me up, though, and alas, that is when my perfecto pacing came to an end. Mile 23- 7:46. Mile 24-7:44.
Damn it.
I got to the One Mile to Go! mark. I would crush this mile. I would crush it crush it crush it.

I didn't crush it. But I did it in 7:31. At least I was back on pace! Too bad the race was over...

My watch read 7:32 pace for 26.5 miles.

I was happy, but more than that, I was fucking cold. I start shaking violently almost immediately after I finished. I  had plans to watch all of my friends come in if they hadn't finished before me. But that plan was GONE. I went straight to get the bag I had checked. I considered heading to the medical tent, but I changed my mind when I realized it was outside. My shaking was increasing and I was feel sick to my stomach. I knew what this was--and I was not going there again if I could help it. I got my bag, but there was no where to go except a stadium bathroom. (The race ended in an arena.) I went in, put my stuff on the floor of a stall, and tried to figure out how to get my hands to work enough so that I could get myself into dry clothes.

It was comical. My shirt got stuck halfway off my head. I fell forward and banged against the bathroom wall. I was stuck for at least a minute. Finally I got the shirt off, and then my quad seized again and I dropped onto the toilet seat, except that my shorts were half off and I fell IN the toilet. I pushed myself up, and then just sat on the edge of the toilet seat, half naked, shaking and really concerned I would die in this bathroom stall. Since I was sitting there, I decided to pee. Or try to. A little tiny tinkle came out. I pushed myself up using my arms and looked. It was orange. Yuk. Post marathon pee. I needed to get some water in me. That meant I had to re-start my effort to finish this changing fiasco.

I finally got my shorts off and my dry clothing on. I clumsily put my wet shit in the bag, and left the stall. Twenty minutes had passed. Yes, I spent 20 minutes in a stall attempting to change. The scene in the bathroom was now hysterical. Women in soaking running garb and wrapped in mylar sheets shook violently, wet hair clinging to their purple faces. Many hadn't checked bags, and I just felt so bad for them. What would they do? A few of us got the idea to sit undeneath the hand dryers. That was delicious. I just sat there, the hot air streaming down my shirt. We each took turns. The problem was that as time passed, more and more desperate women came in. We, the ones now donning dry clothing, needed to move on.

I went outside and found a few friends. Dan, who had run the half marathon, brought us some warm soup and let use wrap ourselves in blankets he had brought with him. Then we headed to the car. An unceremonious departure, I will say that!

Later that afternoon Dan and Melissa had the GNRCers over for a post-race fiesta. We had cause to celebrate! We had numerous Boston Qualifiers, successful first time marathons, and quite a few fantastic half marathon performances. Not only that, but our lowely little Open Women's Team placed 8th out of 16th in the club division, just ahead of the B.A.A (Boston Athletic Association) and just behind Whirlaway Racing Team, two of the most competitive running teams in New England. We rock.

Final result for moi:
3:19:34, 7:37 pace
5/188 in my Age Group (30-39)
19/629 for women, overall
247/1561 Overall

And now it's time to rest.
(Except that I really, really feel like going for quick little run right now....) ;)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Double X

I had a great race yesterday.
It was cold.
And rainy.
And it snowed enough later in the day for my daughter to make a 3 ft. tall snowman. (no lie.)
But I PR'd by 12 minutes, so it's all good in the end!
3:19:34, 7:37 pace, average.

My goal was to PR, but it was also to break 3:20.
Woot! Yahoo! Praise God and Jen Harrison! I'm excited about ending the season on such a good note.

Race Report to follow.

In other very exciting Mary news, I had a small piece published in My Comeback, a blog that is a part of Double X, a Web magazine that Slate launched in spring 2009.  If you click here and scroll down, you can click on my article. There is one typo (boo). Where it reads blow off temporarily postpone, there should be a line through blow off. The humor is lost without the cross out, but oh well. Please check it out!

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's Party Time!

Well, maybe not party time.
Rather, Marathon Time.

I'm running the Bay State Marathon on Sunday. It's supposed to be wet, cold and windy. I'm holding out hope for a cool, crisp, fall day, which is what I imagined it would be when I signed up.

I  haven't written about training for this event. It's been good, though. It's been all running for the last three weeks. Heavenly, I say. Just heavenly.  No swimming, No biking, no super long hours. It's been swell.

I did have a couple doozie workouts in there. The hardest was a 22 mile run with an average pace 25 seconds per mile off my goal marathon pace. That one left me shattered. I followed that run up a couple days later with the Yasso 800s. The Yasso 800s consist of 10 x 800 with full recoveries done at the hardest consistent pace you can handle. Those were hard, but I nailed those suckers. Harder still was a few days later when I did 3 min on, 3 min off x 8, with the on at faster than 5k pace. During that one I nearly cried.

Running a fall marathon this year feels totally different than the other fall marathons I've run.  For those, the marathon was my singular focus all season. This season the IM was my singular focus, and then it was just fun fun fun in the way of sprints and Olympics--and oh! Why don't I add a marathon in there?  I've only been totally focusing on the marathon for the last three weeks, and I've only had one run longer than 16 since Lake Placid.

Still, I'm hoping for a P.R.
Actually, I'm hoping to slam my old P.R.

My tactic for this race is to run it like I own it. I'm not going to take it out at 10K pace (duh) but I'm not taking it out like a slug either, hoping to prevent the fade. I'm going to go out evenly and on goal pace, and hold that--- til 26.2. So, I'll either have a massive PR, or I will totally crack. I'm hoping for the former. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where I've Been

Not here.

Instead, I've been living vicariously through the athletes I know who traveled to Kona and competed this weekend.
Watching that video stream never got old.

First, a very loud congrats to Ange--my idol.  She seriously, seriously worked her tush off training for Lake Placid, and then, with total grit, picked herself up and trained all summer and fall for the World Championship. At Kona she raced her heart out, overcame the heat, and triumphed. I remember when Ange and I ran Chicago in '07. It was the hot year. We both totally melted (really--it was ugly), and at the end talked about how if this was bad, what it would be like to do Hawaii? Little did she know that she WOULD be doing Hawaii just two years later--in heat much more powerful than that of Chicago that day. You did it, Ange. You did it.

Also a huge congrats to my blogger buddies MichelleMarit, and Kerrie, and my former QT2 peeps Michelle, Pam, Molly, Pat and Cait. They were all awesome. Most impressive was Michelle S's killer bike split of 5:43 and Michelle J's run split of 3:31. (It must be something about being named Michelle? Can I change my name?)

Being so immersed in all things Kona has me thinking and talking triathlon even  more than I usually do, and that's saying something.  I'm sure Andy wants to press my off button. Since that's not possible it appears his strategy is to turn down the volume in his brain when he hears the word Kona uttered. It's cool to watch. Just look at him and say KONA, then watch his eyes slowly glaze over as he moves away like an automaton.

The other day I was asked what I'd do if I didn't qualify for Kona at IM CDA next year.

I waited a split second. What would I do?
Well actually, that's an easy one. I'd try again! I love this shit! Let's see... which IM should I pick next?


On a totally different note.
I like to write. (shocker, I know.)

Writing and triathlon share a few things in my world. 
  • Both are hobbies which I'd rather were my careers.
  • As careers they both make next to nothing unless one is wildly successful, and being wildly successful at either is rare.
  • Both hurt when the going gets tough. (If writing doesn't ever hurt, then you haven't really tried at writing.)
  • Both require discipline and consistency. 
  • Both have their sprints (short essays, posts, short shorts), olympics (short stories, longer essays), and endurance events (novels, non-fiction text) . To excel at any one of these distances/types of writing requires specific focus, and if you excel in one area, you may not excel in another. 
  • Both can be highly self-centered pursuits.
  • Both require support staff, e.g. a coach, editor. 
  • Both bring me enormous satisfaction.
  • It takes serious guts to say to the world, I am a triathlete. I am a coach. I am writer. 
I couldn't teach this year. As I've reiterated over and over, I completely burnt myself out, and I need a long recovery period before I can even think about resuming that career. 
There were some nice things about that career, however. One thing I liked is that getting into teaching is a straightforward process. You earn your M.Ed (or you simply get certified), you apply, you begin. This is not to say that teaching is easy. It's not. It's also not at all what most non-teachers think it is--but that's another post. My point is only that when you begin teaching  you become a part of a system that is in place. You don't create the system. You move into it, you fight with it or become one with it, but it is there--immovable and concrete.

Not so with professions like coaching or writing. With teaching you must be hired. The very act of being hired gives the teacher a boost. We think you'd be good--come on in and join us! But with coaching and writing you have to put yourself out there without that boost. You don't become a part of a system--you have to build your own system and have the faith that it will stand.

And that requires enormous confidence.

Which I lack.

I turn 40 in about eight months. (Not that I think about that much. Not me.)
What that says to me is that it's time to shit or get off the fucking pot.

Hi. I'm Mary. I am a writer. I am a coach. I am a triathlete.

Look for more from me, because I'm not hiding behind the system any longer.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Talent Code and its Implications for Triathlon

I'm reading the The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.  Its premise really isn't novel.  The gist is that when we focus deeply on something, when we repeatedly work at it, when we throw our passion into it, we can excel in our chosen domain at an accelerated pace.

Of course.

Still, the book has me thinking. It's causing me to acknowledge and question my deeply-rooted beliefs about talent, intelligence and skill.

  • On a conscious level I know that any skill can be honed by working at it. 
  • On an unconscious level I believe that some people pick up skills more quickly than others, and this is a pre-determined, genetic thing.
  • On a conscious level I know that intelligence is worked at; that those people who read, study, and practice are the ones who gain knowledge most quickly and thoroughly, and are the ones who excel at taking standardized tests and landing A's in school.
  • On an unconscious level I believe that intelligence is inherited. Some people are smart; some people aren't, and there isn't much you can do to change that.
  • On a conscious level I believe that I can train my body to excel at whatever I decide is worthy of such a pursuit.
  • On an unconscious level I believe there are born athletes and born troopers, and that I am a trooper, devoid of inherited athletic prowess.
This book has made me really question my unconscious beliefs about talent.

For example, I consider my husband very intelligent. I believe he is superior to me in this intelligence, and that I could never match his perfect GREs, his undergraduate degrees in physics and religion (the two of which combined illustrate the range of his interests/ability), his doctorate from Harvard, his thorough knowledge of pretty much everything from A-Z.
In short, he is smart.
He is smarter than me.

Or take Ange. Ange is a killer athlete, and she always has been. When we were tykes she dominated the swimming pool. Dominated. In high school she did cross-country and track, and though they weren't her focus, she dominated there as well. When in college she swam Division I, and domintated there, and when she graduated she ran her first marathon with limited training and she qualified for Boston on this first time out.
She is a natural. gifted.
She is more gifted than me.

What if Andy is intelligent and Ange is a killer athlete because from day one they have viewed themselves as intelligent and an athlete respectively, and therefore put in the time--the focused practice--to achieve this?

According to this book what happens is this:

  • You have a vision of yourself inspired by something--like watching Tiger Woods on TV, or seeing someone perform Fur Elise on the piano who is your same age, or whatever--and you decide: I want that for me. 
  • You go into deep practice. You don't just practice; you get into this meditative state where you slow things down and divide the skill into its various parts, memorize each part through constant repetition, and then emerge, skill born. Your learning is accelerated exponentially when you achieve this focused state.
  • You develop passion. You want this thing for yourself and you continually go into deep practice to achieve it. You have a vision of yourself that is long term. You are a STUDENT. You are a SWIMMER. You are a PIANIST.  This vision sustains you and you aren't deterred from your mission.
  • As you enter this state, the focused learning state, the myelin in your brain wraps tightly around the ignited nerve fibers, insulating them and allowing electric impulses to travel more speedily and smoothly. The more the skill is practiced, the more myelin wraps around the nerve fiber, and the more rote the skill becomes. So it's all about myelin. Apparently when they dissected Einstein's brain there was a shitload of myelin in there. At the time they didn't know why. Now they do. He myelinated--like incessantly.
So, perhaps, Andy believed he was an intelligent from an early age, and he learned how to go into "deep practice" to realize this truth. What I have noticed over the years is that when Andy doesn't know something, he will slow things down and focus--sometimes for days--until he gets it. Do this for forty years straight, and well, no wonder he is Wonder Boy. He has myelinated the shit out of his brain. It's not that he is more innately talented than others; it's that he has entered this state repeatedly since he was a wee one.

I didn't do that.

Or with Ange. She got the signal she was an athlete early on. She worked at it. and worked at it. and worked at it. She myleinated when doing the fly, when running on the track. Ange is really strong, and when you look at her you think, Wow, she inherited a seriously athletic build. But then  you look at her parents. They are small. PETITE. Ange's mom is smaller than me, and that's saying something. Her genes didn't make her strong--I don't think, anyway. It was the signal she gave to her body from a young age. Develop here. Move here. Myelinate now. Her body and mind adapted to her vision of herself, to her constant deep practice.

It's interesting to watch my kids in this light. Jordan loves to draw. And she's good. I always thought this was a gift. She inherited the "art" gene, I'd say. Now I see that she is good because she spends so much time in deep practice. She can spend hours drawing a flower. She draws it again and again until she gets it right. She's making myelin, and it's wrapping around nerve fibers so that each time she draws that flower, she does it with greater ease, accuracy and skill. Conversely, Jordan is not creating much myelin around playing soccer. On the soccer field she is somewhere else. She chats with her friends; she looks at her feet. She follows the ball but doesn't get into the action. This isn't because she isn't an athlete. If it were up to genes, she certainly would be a soccer player. Her father and uncle are awesome at the game. But she hasn't gone into deep practice around soccer. She likes soccer. But she doesn't love it. Until she develops passion for it, until she goes outside each morning to work on it, until she gets some myelin wrapping going on in soccer land, she won't achieve it.

What does this all mean?
The cool thing about myelin is that it can grow throughout your lifetime. It grows with greater speed and efficiency when you are younger, but it grows as an adult nevertheless.

What this says to me is that I need to stop believing there is a ceiling for my achievement. The thing is, I have to WANT that achievement, so much so that I meditatively hone its various parts, so much so that I practice deeply at it for years. I could learn physics. Do I want to? Well, yes. But not so much that I am willing to focus on it the way I have, say, focused on triathlon. 

We can't change our genes.
But that doesn't matter. We have more power over our abilities than we have been led to believe.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nutrition: Cause I'm a Nutritionist (not)

I've been thinking about food.

I do this a lot, of course. I love food. I don't discriminate. I like kale and I like Little Debbie's. I like Twinkies and I like soy nuts.
You know.

I like it all.

I began exercise many a year ago so I could eat food and not hate myself and my body for it. It worked. I ran. I ate. I ran. I ate. And I could eat pizza, beer, the occasional piece of cake, the occasional Devil Dog, and I didn't pay for it in rolls and guilt.

Then I actually began to like running. Then I began to love running. Then I started getting serious about my running. And I stopped thinking about how running allowed me to eat, and started thinking about how food could help me run farther. and faster. and better. This was quite a major switch in thinking for me.

I still eat pizza and drink the occasional beer. I don't usually eat a Little Debbie or a Devil Dog, but I do eat cake and brownies and chocolate pudding. I don't eat these things everyday, but I eat them. And I wonder, how do this fact affect my running, swimming and biking? Will everything go to hell in a handbasket (what does that expression even mean?) if I make no rules for myself around the ingestion and digestion of all food?

Don't get me wrong. I eat well. I know most people believe they eat well, but I really think I eat well most of the time. I get at least seven servings of vegetables and several servings of fruit a day. I eat lean protein and Greek yogurt and lowfat cottage cheese and seeds and almonds and tofu. I avoid refined starches and sugars. Whatever. You get the drift. The reason I bring this up, though, is because people who are very serious about triathlon talk about nutrition so much. You'd think that people training for Ironman would be able to let go a little--allow themselves indulgences given that they burn thousands of calories in a day. But they don't. Serious triathletes think about what they put in their mouths to the point of obsession.

I realize that this is because food is fuel, and you want premium fuel to run the engine well. However, sometimes I wonder if it is thought about so much that it takes the joy out of an otherwise pleasurable thing. I have friends who allow themselves so little when they train. They can have the gels, and the sports and recovery drinks, and much of the food they eat is delicious. But there are really strict rules as to what is okay. I can't seem to abide by such rules. I want to compete well. I do sacrifice in many ways. But to give up pizza, or handful of my daughter's honey nut Cherrio's, or to stop putting real sugar in my coffee. Is that too far?

I think quite a bit about the psychology of sport. Sometimes I wonder whether the sacrifices we make fuel us to greatness because we are aware of the sacrifices, and we believe these sacrifices will fuel us to greatness. Having a chunk of chocolate brownie each day probably won't negatively affect performance, but the denial of it--will that sacrifice move the athlete to the belief she will succeed--and so she does? Karen Smyers, I read in an issue of Triathlete several months back, drinks a beer the night before every race. She didn't perform well in one triathlon, and she believes (likely jokingly) that her lack of a beer the night before was the reason she did not do well.  What do we make of that?

Before I race I always have peanut butter and banana. This works for me usually. Lately, though, I've noted that peanut butter has been given the shaft. It's asinine to eat it before a race because you won't digest it quickly, and it will linger in your belly and cause digestive problems.
But it doesn't cause me digestive problems. That's the thing. The reason I like peanut butter is because if I have some the morning of the race, I don't have a blood sugar spike that leaves me feeling hungry later on--usually within an hour of the race start. The fat in the peanut butter satiates me; it makes me feel full, but not heavy. And if the recent research is true, it doesn't much matter what I eat hours before I race, or even whether I eat all (though I find this hard to believe). So what's the problem here? If peanut butter is so wrong, then why are so many of us able to eat pre-race and race successfully?

This isn't what I intended to write about. I meant to write about how I feel like a pill popper these days. I recently read an article on Vitamin D, and decided that I needed to take it on a daily basis. Combine this with the Omega Three fatty acid pills I take, and the Iron, and the spirulina--. It adds up. I meant to write about how easy it easy to miss key nutients, like Vitamin D, when we aren't careful.

But maybe we are all too careful. Maybe we take it all a bit too seirously. Maybe that brownie won't cause me to gain two pounds overnight and ruin next week's race effort. Maybe our non-triathlete friends and neighbors are right to think we are crazy and don't know how to enjoy life.

Or maybe that is just what those people who don't care to compete at the highest level think.

I honestly don't know.